“That’s so on brand for you.” It’s a common refrain among friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, but it’s not just colloquial anymore. With the rapid rise of digital dominance, social media, and the gig economy, personal branding has become one of the most important elements of career success.
But what exactly constitutes a personal brand, and how do you go about defining your own personal brand? Stick around to find out, and you’ll be “on brand” in no time.
Personal branding is an intentional, precisely crafted identity you present to the world. It encompasses who you are but especially how you want to be perceived.
Your brand includes your unique knowledge, expertise, personality, and experience. The best personal brands can be easily summed up with a simple statement or word. Think of Bill Nye The Science Guy, for instance. Did your brain automatically fill in the words “science guy” after his name? That’s a fantastic example of an effective personal brand.
There are a few distinct elements that make up a personal brand. Let’s take a closer look at each of them here.
It’s simple—people crave authenticity. We can spot a faker from 100 miles away and usually don’t appreciate it. Your personal brand all starts with you, so just be yourself.
Of course, you don’t have to bare your soul to every stranger out there. Discretion is key, but you should strive to present yourself in a way that feels true to you and the public image you want to create for yourself.
It will be exhausting to maintain if you craft a brand around a dishonest or inauthentic persona. Not to mention your followers see through it eventually, which will damage trust in your brand and ruin the relationships you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.
Your personal brand should center on your particular field of expertise and knowledge. For example, going back to Bill Nye, you’d feel comfortable asking him about science and entertainment topics, but maybe not so comfortable if he started giving advice on interior design.
While your brand could be a kind of “jack-of-all-trades” situation, it’s much more effective to hone in on one particular skill or area of interest where you have a lot of experience that makes you qualified to teach others.
Your personal brand should tell a story about who you are, where you come from, and where you’re headed. Of course, it doesn’t have to explicitly spell out all the details of your life history (unless you want to). But it should give your audience a clear idea of who you are in an authentic way that centers your expertise.
Check out how Lalah Delia accomplishes this.
She ties together her style, experience, and mission to create an overarching view of who she is, including her authentic story of “ups and downs and all-around.”
Even if you don’t specifically divulge your full background to your audience as part of your personal brand, your story should still permeate everything you do and create.
Your personal brand is about you, so your unique personality should shine through in everything you produce. Thankfully, there’s more than one way to do this, and it should be a fairly natural and organic process.
You can focus on your voice, which will come through in your writing and other content, or you can focus on your face, which can be an important visual aspect of your brand. A great example of this is Neil Patel.
His face is featured all over his site (including the browser image). This is intentional, as it builds awareness around his brand (himself) and helps people remember him. His personality also shows in his website copy, which is short and to the point. He has one job—to help people reach their search engine optimization (SEO) goals—and he is laser-focused on it.
Patel is a great example of the fact that you don’t have to be a personality to have a personality. He’s not an entertainer; he’s a marketer. But his personality is still closely inextricably aligned with his brand.
While they don’t necessarily need to be front and center, you do want to highlight any special connections or affiliations you have that are relevant to your overall brand image. This is also where your social networks come into play—you can emphasize how many followers you have and note any viral posts or content.
The key here is to create a sense of trustworthiness without appearing as bragging or name-dropping. A couple of honorable mentions are fine, but there’s no need for a list packed with connections and accomplishments. Save that for your CV instead!
Your visual identity is the aesthetic element of your personal brand. This can be your face/image, but it can also involve fonts, color schemes, logos, and other stylistic choices. Your followers should ideally be able to associate you with a specific visual style that sets you apart from others.
Think of terms like sleek, minimalist, modern, retro, etc. If you have a well-defined personal fashion style, you can tie it into your other brand stylistic choices to promote congruence. This doesn’t have to be complicated, either—it can be as simple as a favorite color.
This element of your personal brand focuses more on your target audience than on you directly. Here, you want to highlight where people can find you in terms of social networks, websites, podcasts, books, channels, etc.
Tell your followers where they can find and engage with you, and demonstrate how well you have connected with them up until now. This is another place where you can highlight follower counts, guest appearances, views, sales, and any other relevant statistics or accolades that stand out.
Now we’ve covered the basic elements that make up a successful personal brand, but you might still be wondering why it matters in the first place. After all, most of this stuff is intuitive and happens naturally, so why would you need to focus on intentionally crafting a personal brand?
Well, there are quite a few benefits to doing so.
When you take the time to establish your personal brand, it becomes the number one thing that sets you apart from everyone else.
An iconic and playful example of this is from Larry Kim, the renowned internet marketer.
He is known for saying, “Be a unicorn in a sea of donkeys,” and you can find images of unicorns all over his articles and social media profiles. His brand is marketing, and he very effectively uses the image of a unicorn to convey the philosophy and strategy of his brand.
When you create something iconic, you naturally gain more visibility. The more people recognize and know you, the more you’ll be invited to contribute to other content, and the more people will see you—let the cycle continue. It all starts with a strong, recognizable, and memorable brand.
You’ll be aware of (and offered) more opportunities when you're highly visible. This can look like collaboration with others in your field, guest spots on podcasts and blogs, or even publishing contracts and similar projects.
You may have to fight for these opportunities initially, but once your personal brand has grown enough to build exposure, these opportunities will start coming to you.
Crafting an effective personal brand will build trust with your audience, which translates to a strong and positive reputation. This means people will naturally trust you and see you as an authority in your expertise, hopefully furthering your reach and impact even more.
When you have a personal brand that people recognize, trust, and respect, they will see you as offering exceptional value.
Most likely, you’ve already built your brand around content creation or service, and to get to this point, you’ve already demonstrated that you have a lot to offer. But by focusing on your personal brand, you can emphasize how you truly excel, driving even more people to take advantage of what you offer.
One often overlooked benefit of creating a personal brand is that it will help you improve your own self-awareness and build a more self-actualized perception of yourself.
The ability to look inside yourself and identify areas of strengths and weaknesses, paths to growth, and core values is a valuable skill that, frankly, not everyone has. You will naturally build these skills as part of the process by working to craft and cultivate your personal brand.
Networking is a key element of success in today’s world. Luckily, having a strong personal brand can give you a leg up here, as people will already be familiar with who you are, what you stand for, and what you can do for them (and vice versa).
This makes the sometimes-daunting networking process a bit easier and less intimidating, and it even gets some awkward cold introductions out of the way.
One of the best ways to build your brand is by being consistent. Whether that’s consistent post schedules, consistent interviews, consistent livestreams, consistent product drops, etc., being reliable in the eyes of your followers is vital. By working on establishing your personal brand, you will also be practicing this skill, which will serve you well as you move forward.
Nobody wants a PR nightmare. The good news is, when you’re the one creating and maintaining your public image, you are the one in control of what people see and know about you. Of course, there are limits to this. Still, assuming you avoid catastrophe, the result of a well-crafted personal brand is a highly controlled, curated, and perfected public image—the kind that people recognize, like, relate to, and want to follow.
There you have it—the basics of personal branding in 2022. Now that you understand what personal branding is and why it matters, you’ll set yourself up for success with your authentic, unique image.
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